In less than a week, Auckland Council will vote on an emergency budget that looks set to deliver severe cuts to facilities and services across the city. And still pleas for a commitment on shovel ready projects go unheeded by government, writes councillor Desley Simpson.
As a country we can feel proud of our success in responding to Covid-19, a team of five million coming together to keep our communities safe. We are now in a unique position to recover from the pandemic swiftly, and the government has signaled it is focused on ensuring this happens.
However I question its lack of focus on Auckland, given our city’s pivotal role in the health and wellbeing of the nation’s economy.
As chair of Auckland Council’s Finance and Performance Committee, I am grappling with the devastation Covid-19 has delivered to our finances. We are now looking down the barrel of a $525m revenue hole. On top of this, we are also faced with a water crisis equally as financially challenging, to the tune of over $200m.
Auckland provides at least 38% of our national GDP. As a city, we are 1.6 million of the 5 million strong team – approximately 33% of this country’s population. Our economy provides around 890,000 jobs across multiple industries. It is in the government’s best interest to support us to protect these industries; these jobs; these people. Our people.
In March, the government announced plans to fund large “shovel ready” infrastructure projects to assist in an economic recovery, a package worth $3bn. The projects for consideration would need to be focused on water, transport, clean energy, and buildings and would also need to have a public or regional benefit, create jobs and be able to get underway quickly. In response, Auckland Council submitted 73 projects that met the outlined criteria in the hope that any committed funding would ease our financial predicament.
So far, there has only been one related announcement that Auckland would receive $500m of the fund with one Auckland City Mission project confirmed. With no other detail, we remain in the dark as to whether we will share in any of the funding allocated to the region.
Last month, I wrote to the prime minister personally. I asked for help in committing shovel ready funding to Auckland Council projects for financial year 2020/21. I asked that the appropriate ministers make an announcement on this funding for Auckland in time for us to consider the implications for our emergency budget.
With no response, I then co-signed another letter with Mayor Goff following a unanimous resolution by the mayor and councillors seeking to convey similar sentiments. We asked that the prime minister and government assist us by advising funding decisions by Friday 10 July, noting our emergency budget had to be agreed the following week.
That date has now been and gone and we have received no word from Wellington. It is hugely frustrating and disappointing that Auckland hasn’t been prioritised. In fact, as Auckland Council staff work day and night to provide us options to alleviate financial pressures, they do so without knowledge of any support from central government.
Given the government’s understanding of the challenges we face, I would have thought our very first call to action would be answered. With less than a week to go until we need to make our final budget decisions, their silence on this matter is bewildering.
So, if the government, in particular the prime minister is reading this, please take this as my final plea: Auckland deserves to receive investment through shovel ready funding for the 2020/21 year. And most importantly, we deserve it before our emergency budget is voted on.